The benefits of cleaning extend beyond our primary concern of human health protection. In the field of environmental management we call these secondary concerns well-being and welfare effects and benefits. Cleaning boasts a variety of non-health benefits, including protecting valuable materials; maintaining real estate values; accenting aesthetics; encouraging topophilia, ownership and property redevelopment; promoting business success; sending caring messages to schools; and serving as a form of insurance.
Valuable materials exposed to a built environment’s polluted conditions may undergo adverse physical changes. Physical and chemical processes, pollution and other agents cause most of the damage. Physical processes include particle erosion and exposure to hot and cold temperatures. Chemical processes consist of corrosion, biological attack from mildew, acid mists and gas and chemical reactions.
Before we can understand materials damage we must understand "causes and mechanisms of action" including:
- The environmental conditions in which the materials are exposed;
- The mechanisms causing damage in different exposures;
- The wet and dry deposition processes influencing damage rates; and
- The interaction of chemicals with materials and other environmental components, such as moisture and light.
Evidence indicates indoor soiling significantly—sometimes irreversibly—damages cultural property. Dust, soot, secondhand smoke, textile fibers, acidic gases, ozone and aerosols, cause the deterioration of important works of art, documents and historic artifacts.
Different objects are vulnerable to different pollutants. Paper, paintings, books, textiles and wax items are more susceptible to dusts, ozone and acidic aerosols. Paper is the primary storage medium for permanent records, including personal photographs, letters, rare books, maps and historic documents. Moisture, particulate matter and physical wear soil paper and cause brittleness. Metals and photographic materials are vulnerable to attack by acid fumes. Cleaning prevents or reduces many of these damages.
Metals corrode through physical, chemical and biological interactions involving moisture, temperature, oxygen and biological agents. Atmospheric pollutant exposure often accelerates corrosion. This type of corrosion stems from complex interactions of the pollutant with the metal surface and corrosion film.
Without moisture, corrosion is limited, regardless of whether pollutants are present. When there is moisture, sulfur oxides, acid gases, salt, particulate matter and microorganisms corrode and tarnish metals. Cleaning and controlling moisture slows down this process.
Pollutant-caused corrosion in indoor environments also victimizes electronic devices. Corrosion builds up on electrical contacts causing loss of electricity and contact failure. When computers are exposed corrosion degrades the recording head’s magnetic properties. Various pollutants also cause “pores” to develop in wiring. The wire’s solderability decreases after such exposure and damage. This is prevented by removing pollutants from the environment.
Leather also becomes damaged when exposed to heat, moisture, microorganisms and pollutants, such as sulfur dioxide. The white or yellow powder often found on this fabric may be caused by fungi exposure, ozone and nitrogen or sulfur oxides. Periodic cleaning protects leather goods.
Paints are undoubtedly the largest class of manmade materials exposed to pollutants found in indoor and outdoor environments. Used as decorative coverings and protective coatings against environmental elements, paints endure normal weathering from sunlight, moisture, fungi and temperature fluctuation. Pollutants also affect paint’s durability. It loses its thickness as shown by discoloration, chalking, loss of shine or luster and erosion. Paint also loses its adhesion, as evidenced by blistering and peeling, because of exposure to sulfur oxides, hydrogen sulfide, ozone, soot and particulate matter, known for soiling painted surfaces. Soiling is remedied by cleaning and repainting. Particle exposure calls for more frequent cleaning and may reduce the soiled material’s lifetime usefulness. Periodic cleaning extends paint life.1
Carpet needs frequent cleaning to promote good health and protect the fabric. Soil is a primary cause of premature carpet wear. Particles penetrate into the carpet’s backing and act as a grinding compound. As the carpet is walked on, those particles cut the fibers. Eventually, the lost fiber leaves bare spots on the carpet. Scratched fibers cause unsightly “traffic lanes” that are visible even after a thorough cleaning. If left untouched, particles, such as sand, twigs and leaves, scratch and pit carpet fibers, causing enough damage to make light reflect at irregular angles. This uneven reflection makes a clean carpet appear soiled.2
Maintains Real Estate Value
Unclean conditions stigmatize real property, often lowering its market value by 30 to 50 percent.3 The property’s net operating income also is reduced while property owners experience increased operating expenses. Unkempt properties result in reduced occupancy and rents. The absence of cleaning and the resulting pollution disrupts the balance of the environmental system—including built environments—and upsets daily behavior.
Pollutants that otherwise could be removed by cleaning significantly effect real property value. Unclean, poorly maintained, vacant and/or unguarded real estate encourages looting, vandalism, arson, dumping, drug trafficking and other criminal uses. These conditions brand the entire community by lowering the market value of surrounding property. Early indicators of pollution’s impact on property value are decreased sales or local market prices, extended periods on the market and reduced sales volumes in polluted regions.
Contaminated property also loses value due to the stigma associated with previous, oftentimes rectified, contamination. That stigma is based on a fear that corrective action was inadequate or the condition may later be declared unacceptable. An otherwise healthy property also may lose value because of its close proximity to unsightly real estate. Often this is due to the fear of health effects or pollution migration. Cleaning helps overcome stigma.
Cleaning restores materials so they assume pleasing characteristics for sight, taste, smell and touch. It frees environments from discordant sights and influences, enhances them visually and highlights interesting forms, textures and patterns.
Visible aesthetics always affect property value. These values are quantifiable. Property value depends on visible pollution damage and the anxiety associated with invisible contamination. Generally, a non-quantifiable concealment factor exists. Perceptions of the unseen contamination, such as that associated with underground storage tanks, toxic pollutants in the food chain or pollutants in the environment, like PCBs, are associated with danger, fear and an unclear prognosis for correction. No condition or cure for contaminated property exists. At best, contamination can be corrected or brought to an acceptable level of risk to human health. This is accomplished through cleaning.
Encourages Topophilia, Ownership and Redevelopment
Topophilia is a “love of place.” It is why individuals remain in their built environments. We can identify and describe those places that attract people, most of which have cleanliness as the common denominator.4 The more appealing environments are free of aesthetically undesirable or discordant sights and influences, particularly filth and pollution. They possess a variety of vegetation, natural forms and colors. Natural and manmade scenery, free of pollution—unwanted matter—enhances visual quality.
In contrast, dirty, polluted environments are best described as engendering “topophobia” or “fear of place.” They tend to be so distorted and blighted that scenic qualities are nullified or substantially reduced. Generally, there is little or no variety or contrast in surrounding vegetation. Adjacent scenery is distasteful or does little to improve the visual quality. These environments are likely to result in abandoned property.
Cleaning counterbalances the “tragedy of the commons” when public spaces deteriorate because they are owned by everyone and cared for by no one. Cleaning improves the quality of degraded environments.
Whether a building remains healthy depends on pride of ownership, occupancy, proper operation and effective maintenance. In well-managed built environments, owners and managers strive to create surroundings where individuals can live and work disease-free, be physically comfortable, perform activities easily and have a positive self-image.
Communities are optimistic about cleaning idle properties. On a positive note, these properties represent an available land or real estate resource for creating wealth, managing the environment and providing equal social opportunities. Beyond enhancing environmental appeal, redevelopment increases the local tax base; restores or replaces dilapidated buildings and facilities; strengthens economic hubs; creates jobs; uses and promotes maintaining the existing infrastructure; encourages inner city investment; and reduces suburban collapse. Simultaneously, redevelopment reduces the loss of green areas or minimizes intruding on the natural environments.5
The surrounding environment’s quality—deteriorated or degraded—is enhanced by human intervention, particularly through cleaning. Redevelopment based on cleaning and restoration frequently is the only way to ensure historical and cultural preservation. This process often enhances efficient logistical and transportation systems, human interaction and information exchange. Thoughtful redevelopment also protects human health and the environment and corrects social and economic inequities. Quality of life is enhanced for urban environments and pollution control requires less effort.
Promotes Image and Business Success
Often a professional image is projected through a business’s built environment. Successful businesses operate in organized, comfortable and clean environments that are not necessarily new. These environments invite customers to “be our guest and be comfortable.” They project positive messages, such as: “We are serious about our business.;” “We are successful because we care.;” “We care about the property we have acquired through hard work.;” and “We care about you and those who work here.” Visitors are led to believe the healthy environment is the result of success when in reality the reverse is true. The caring environment contributes to a business’s success.
Sends Caring Messages to Schools
Indoor complaints frequently are indicative of an environment where the person in charge did not act responsibly. These environments are disorganized, unsanitary, operated improperly and not used for their original intent. Conversely, an environment with healthy, happy, active, positive and achieving inhabitants exudes an “I care” image. Such an environment is designed for comfort, is functional and free of conditions that cause disease and discomfort. It is clean and sanitary.
School environments that send caring messages through cleaning are good examples. Schools’ indoor environments are increasingly recognized as being directly related to human health, image, self-esteem and attitude—all of which affect academic performance. In the past, cleaning school facilities was not a priority. Now there is a growing demand and need for schools, school districts and education departments to demonstrate the educational contribution made by effective and cost-efficient strategies for managing a school’s indoor environment.
Enhanced management and clean school environments also send a “we care” message to students, teachers and staff. As a result, students and teachers want to be there. Evidence suggests that environmental conditions shape attitudes and performance, especially in the area of improved attendance and standardized test scores.6
Serves as Insurance
Risk is the probability that an adverse effect or undesirable condition exists. Insurance hedges against risk. Cleaning is a form of insurance that reduces risk and prevents crisis. Consider, for instance, that the immune systems of sensitive occupants are not fully developed or are weakened by age or illness. Those individuals are at a greater health risk. Complicating matters is that the sick, elderly and the young often are unable to manage their own environments. The most effective means of protecting their immune systems and reducing the probability of adverse health effects is keeping their immediate environments pristine.
Special environments for sensitive populations can be examined from an economic perspective. These populations spend time in daycare centers, hospitals, nursing homes, public buildings and private homes at significant costs, even under normal circumstances. Sensitive populations also produce special maintenance needs and additional unwanted economic welfare implications if those needs are not met.
Consider the cleaning and maintenance associated with a daycare facility. A typical family might spend $6,000 a year for their child’s care. Suppose a 10,000 square foot facility caring for 50 children spends $12,000 on cleaning and maintenance annually. That translates into 4 percent—or $240—of each child’s yearly tuition. Whenever a child is sick because of an improperly cleaned facility, the family incurs direct, indirect and hidden costs. Parents lose time at work and acquire more medical bills. Specifically, if a child is sick for five days a year due to improper cleaning, the family easily could pay an additional $2,000+ in lost wages and doctor bills. Conversely, when the daycare center doubles its environmental management activities, child sickness due to poor sanitation is eliminated. This adds $240 per child to childcare costs but saves at least $2,000 in disposable family income. The daycare facility also incurs a potential liability.
The following costs are associated with unclean daycare centers:
- Daycare facility liability
- Lost work time for parents
- Risk of losing jobs, promotions and assignments
- Unnecessary medical expenses and daycare tuition
- Inconvenienced customers, employers and family members
- Postponed vacations or outings
These benefits reinforce the valuable role cleaning plays in our lives and our environment. To assure future generations reap the same benefits we must raise public and industry awareness and their perception of cleaning. Then maybe we can guarantee a cleaner, healthier tomorrow.
Michael D. Berry, Ph.D., was chairman of the Science Advisory Council for the Cleaning Industry Research Institute (CIRI) in 2006. The information contained in this article was extracted from Dr. Berry’s papers and presentations at CIRI’s 2007 Cleaning Science Conference and Symposium. His entire paper and Power Point presentation, as well as those of other symposium presenters, are available at www.ciri-research.org.
Published with permission by the Cleaning Industry Research Institute © 2008.
 Berry, M. A. (2002). The Contribution of Restoration and Effective Operation and Maintenance Programs on Indoor Environmental Quality and Educational Performance in Schools. Proceedings of Indoor Air 2002. Presented at Indoor Air 2002 Conference, Monterey, CA, http://www.buildinggreen.com